KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Stuart Appleby had to go an extra hole to make it three in a row yesterday at the Mercedes Championships, making a birdie on the par-5 18th to force a playoff against Vijay Singh, then winning on the same hole with a bunker shot that nearly went in.
Appleby joined Gene Littler in 1955-57 as the only players to win the winners-only tournament three straight times, and none of them was easy.
''This one was the hardest," said Appleby, who went from a two-shot lead to a two-shot deficit before making birdies on two of the last four holes for a 2-under-par 71.
Two groups ahead of him, Singh surged into the lead with a 7-under 66, the best score of the tournament and nine shots better than the average score in the final round. But in the playoff, Singh's approach caught a soft bounce and stayed short of the green, and his 100-foot eagle putt stopped 9 feet short of the hole.
Appleby hit 3-iron through the green into the back bunker, then blasted out and watched the ball tickle over the rim of the cup before settling 2 feet away. Singh's birdie putt stayed right the whole way, and Appleby holed his short putt for what is becoming a familiar finish at this tournament.
''I had to do something special coming in. I didn't do it, so I had to do it in the playoff," Appleby said. ''Winning the Mercedes is awesome. Winning three times is a dream come true."
Both players finished at 8-under 284, the highest score to win in the eight years the season-opening event has been played on the Plantation course at Kapalua.
The Mercedes Championships was missing some of the stars this year as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, and Padraig Harrington all stayed home. Singh and Appleby delivered a sterling show, only the third playoff in the eight years at Kapalua.
Not many imagined Singh would be part of it, starting the final round five shots behind.
But an approach to 2 feet for a tap-in eagle on the fifth sent him on his way. Singh's only bogey came on the par-4 17th when he came up short of the green and chipped 15 feet by. His approach on the 18th in regulation finished pin-high, setting up an easy chip he put within a foot of the cup for birdie. Then, he waited to see if Appleby could match him.
It wasn't easy for the 34-year-old Australian. With Appleby one shot behind, his sand wedge to the 16th landed beyond the green and wound up back in the fairway, the product of too much spin and grain. His chip went 6 feet by, and he made a difficult par putt to keep his hopes alive.
After missing a 15-footer on the 17th, he needed birdie on the 18th to force a playoff. His approach was just short, but he played his 150-foot chip perfectly, and it rolled within 4 feet for a 71 and extra holes.
Appleby won for the seventh time on the PGA Tour, earning $1.08 million and adding to his collection of Mercedes-Benz sports cars that go to the winner.
Jim Furyk shot 72 all four days and joined Appleby as the only players to break par each round on a Plantation course that never played tougher. Furyk was at 4-under 288 to finish third.
Michael Campbell, in a three-way tie for the lead with seven holes to play, lost his tee shot at No. 12 in the knee-high native grasses and shot 41 on the back nine for a 75 to tie for fourth with Vaughn Taylor, who closed with a 71. Lucas Glover was the only other player under par, but he had to birdie three of the last four holes to get to 1-under 291.
Appleby responded to his first threat early in the round, after Campbell birdied the fourth to get within one shot. From just behind the green on the par-5 fifth, 70 feet from the flag and facing a swift, scary putt, he holed it for eagle to reach 8 under and build a two-shot lead.
Two groups ahead of them, Singh joined the chase.
He made the turn in 32, and then hit perhaps his best shot of the week. After driving into a bunker 50 yards short of the green on the 12th, he blasted out with enough spin to have it roll within 4 inches for birdie and a stronger presence on the leaderboard.
Then, he let the guys ahead of him made crucial mistakes.
Campbell missed a 3-foot birdie putt for a share of the lead at No. 10, then fell out of the race on No. 12 when he lost his tee shot and made double bogey.
Appleby then got shaky with the putter. He blasted out of a bunker to 4 feet on No. 11 but missed the par putt, creating a three-way tie with Singh and Campbell. Two holes later, his approach came up short and left him a putt from 60 feet with about 25 feet of break. He three-putted for bogey, and lost the lead for the first time since Friday.
Singh was surging, and he chipped nicely to 4 feet for birdie on the 15th, then hit a sand wedge that stopped 3 feet behind the cup for a birdie on the 16th that gave him a two-shot lead.
''I played well all week, I just made a few mistakes each day," Singh said. ''Today, I said I was going out there and be a little more aggressive, take on the golf course, and hit it like I can."